Some hope for the future

A GROUP of teenagers signalled hope for tennis in the country with some good performances, as the International Tennis Federation's junior circuit hit the country.


Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan with his whiplash forehand shots outplayed his opponent in the boys' final.-S. PATRONOBISH

A GROUP of teenagers signalled hope for tennis in the country with some good performances, as the International Tennis Federation's junior circuit hit the country. The ONGC sponsored grade III event at Kolkata's DKS Sports Complex, which started three consecutive weeks of ITF juniors' events, saw two top junior talents of the country — Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan in the boys' section and Sandhya Nagaraj in the girls' — win the crowns. There were others too whose performances gave credence to the emergence of fresh talent, who have the potential to make it big. The official version of such an observation came from Gajendra Singh, the new Director, Travelling and Planning of the All India Tennis Association, who said that "there is lot of hope if the present set of juniors, all within the age bracket of 16, can be guided and nurtured properly". Gajendra Singh, will be serving as a touring coach for the youngsters in the circuit, advising them on nutrition, fitness and also on how to judiciously schedule their tour programme. "The aim is to help the kids develop the right attitude and discipline'' so that they can approach the fiercely competitive circuit with the gusto", he said.

The emerging strength was quite apparent in the boys' section. Rupesh Roy, the highest ranked Indian junior in the ITF list, led the field and was followed by Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, Sanam Singh, Vivek Shokeen and Sumit Prakash Gupta. They all have the merit to flourish.

The Indian dominance was evident right from the beginning as all the five seeded players progressed rather easily to the quarterfinal stage. Two unseeded Indian boys — Tejesvi Rao and Mohammad Fariz — made their mark in the first round. Rao ousted seventh seeded Uzbekistan player Vaja Uzakov in straight sets on the even clay of DKS. Fariz, who played the qualifiers for a main draw spot, accounted for another Uzbek, Aleksey Namozov, who was 1242 ranks higher than the former. Fariz's progress ended in the very next round when he played Shokeen while Rao bowed out fighting a three-setter against Petr Dostal of the Czech Republic.

The real battle started in the quarterfinals which saw the end of two seeds — Sanam Singh and Sumit Prakash Gupta. Sanam Singh impressed with his agility and fine timing. But was outplayed by the eventual finalist Xiao Peng Lai of Hong Kong. Sanam dominated the first set but Lai took over in the latter two sets making good use of his sliced returns, that packed a lot of spin forcing the Indian to make errors. Gupta, the Itawa (Uttar Pradesh) boy who has made his place in the juniors' hierarchy despite hailing from an unlikely tennis centre, packed a nice rhythm and temperament. But the sixth seed failed to get past the power and big serves of Shokeen in the quarterfinals.

The semifinals brought up the biggest surprise as Rupesh Roy lost to Lai. The Indian topper, who beat Lai to the title in the same event and venue last year, appeared to be a bit relaxed and allowed the latter to recover from a set's deficit and win consecutive sets for the match. The other semifinal between Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan and Shokeen was a see-saw battle. While both turned out to be aggressive baseliners, Shokeen, the taller of the two, was a bit sharper with the service winning the first set 6-3. The second set went to tiebreaker and it was Jeevan who showed better nerves to take the set 7-6(7-5). This put the second seed on the victory path as he won the decider 6-3 to wrap up the match.

Sandhya Nagaraj played consistently to bag the girls' crown.-S. PATRONOBISH

The southpaw from Chennai completely overpowered Lai in the final. His whiplash forehand shots proved too hot for the Hong Kong player. The win also helped the Indian avenge his quarterfinal defeat to Lai in the same meet last year. This was the first grade III title for Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan. Unfortunately Jeevan could not complete a double as he, pairing with compatriot Sanam K. Singh, lost the doubles final to the top seeded pair of Roy and Shokeen.

Sandhya Nagaraj, hailing from Chennai too, was the only girl to show consistency. She had a comfortable passage throughout, except in the quarterfinals when unseeded Nigora Sirojiddinova of Uzbekistan gave a tough challenge. The Indian, who got the top billing in the absence of the injured Madura Ranganathan, lost the first set tiebreak but recovered to win the second set, again in tiebreaks, and the decider. The difficult win seemed to charge up Sandhya as she played much better in the next two rounds to ensure her maiden ITF crown.

Second seeded Dominice Ripoll of Germany was the only other seed to survive the topsy turvy girls draw which saw the exit of the seeds right from the first round. Ripoll, who was sponsored by Steffi Graf, was impressive with her service and strong returns. The German hardly encountered any difficulty winning in straight sets till she met Sandhya in the final. While the Indian played steadily, Ripoll proved a bundle of nerves making numerous unforced errors. The final in the end remained a facile affair for Sandhya as Ripoll, who had some problems with a bruised toe, failed to put up a good fight.

There was nothing much to shout about the other seeds most of whom had met their waterloo by the pre-quarterfinals. The first round saw the exit of three seeds as fourth seeded G. Kakhandiki was ousted by Karina Ahuja, fifth seeded Li He Wen Fei of China was shown the door by Uzbek Sitdjemileva while wildcard Gayatri Krishnan accounted for the seventh seeded Penporn Chantawannop of Thailand.

The girls doubles was won by Li He Wen Fei and Denise Dy who beat the Germany-Uzbekistan combination of the Ripoll and Sitjemileva in the final.

The results

Singles: Boys: 2-Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan bt 5-Xiao Peng Lai (Hkg) 6-2, 6-4.

Semifinals: Peng Lai bt 1-Rupesh Roy 1-6, 6-3, 6-4; J. Nedunchezhiyan bt 4-Vivek Shokeen 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3.

Girls: 1-Sandhya Nagaraj (Ind) bt 2-Dominice Ripoll (Ger) 6-4, 6-4.

Semifinals: S. Nagaraj bt 3-Yulia Parasyuk (Rus) 6-1, 6-2; D. Ripoll bt Asha Nanda Kumar 7-6 (7-4), 6-1.

Doubles: Boys: Final: 1-Rupesh Roy & Vivek Shokeen bt 2-Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan & Sanam K. Singh 6-3, 6-7 (7-9), 6-2.

Semifinals: R. Roy & V. Shokeen bt 3-Xiao Peng Lai (Hkg) & Ronald Chow (Hkg) 4-6, 6-4, 6-1; J. Nedunchezhiyan & S. K. Singh bt Christian Hodel (Rom) & Andrei Plotnyi (Rus) 7-5, 6-2.

Girls: Final: Li He Wen Fei (Chn) & Denise Dy (Phi) bt 3-Eleonora Sitjemileva (Uzb) & Dominice Ripoll (Ger) 7-5, 6-2.